By Chris Le
As the 2006-2007 regular season comes to an end, it is time to hand out some hardware. Here’s my take:
MVP – Dirk Nowitzki. Since the All-Star break, it has been a two-man race between Dirk and Steve Nash. Some say Kobe Bryant is in the hunt, but to be honest, he never really broke into the conversation, even with his tear of 50-point games — the Los Angeles Lakers’ second half performance has been far too dismal. Dirk has been the best player on the best team, and in this year of no unexpected surprises, that’s enough to win the MVP. The Dallas Mavericks, in large part due to Nowitzki, have elevated their play to a level that has granted comparison with some of the best teams in history. And Nash, who has been playing the best basketball of his career — even better than his previous MVP seasons — is still too much of a defensive liability for my taste. Plus, I don’t think Nash belongs in the company of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as 3-time consecutive MVP winners.
Next on the ballot: Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James
Sixth Man of the Year – Manu Ginobili. A close race between the Argentinean whirlwind of the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns’ Brazilian import, Leandro Barbosa. Though Barbosa’s numbers are better across the board, no bench player has had the impact of Ginobili on his squad. In the first half of the season, the Spurs were completely vulnerable because of the lack of offensive fire-power when they go to their bench. Inserting Manu as the sixth man has given them the spark they needed to heat up their playoff engine, and entering the postseason, no team has been playing better basketball than the Spurs. This brilliant coaching decision coupled with Ginobili’s selflessness and incredible play has made this San Antonio squad a possible favorite to win the title. Some point to the fact that Manu isn’t really a sixth man, but Barbosa — who averages more minutes than Ginobili (32.8 to 27.5) by the way — would probably start on 85% of the teams in the NBA.
Next on the ballot: Leandro Barbosa, Jerry Stackhouse, Corey Maggette, Antonio McDyess
Most Improved Player – Kevin Martin. The 2006-2007 season has been the year of improvement, as nearly ten candidates have viable arguments to be the winner. There’s the Golden State Warriors duo of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. Or you could make a case for Utah Jazz teammates Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, both of whom have positioned themselves among the elite at their positions. And let’s not forget the pleasant surprises of Caron Butler and Andre Iguodala. However, I’m going with Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Martin, who leads his team — which includes Mike Bibby and Ron Artest — in scoring. Two years ago, Martin averaged 2.9 points a game, and after a dropping 10.8 a night last season, he is now among the top 20 in points per game with 20.5. Ugly stroke aside, Martin has become a legitimate scoring threat that opposing teams must account for.
Next on the ballot: Monta Ellis, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andris Biedrins, Andre Iguodala, Caron Butler
Defensive Player of the Year – Marcus Camby. This is the most wide-open category of the year, with early favorites such as Ben Wallace and Bruce Bowen being hampered by slow starts and no real standouts stepping up. However, I’m going with the Denver Nuggets center, who is second in the league in defensive rebounds per game (9.4) and tops in blocks per game (3.25) and total blocks (221). And on a team with the offensive-minded and defensively-challenged Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, Camby’s role of eraser is that much more important.
Next on the ballot: Tim Duncan, Emeka Okafor, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith
Rookie of the Year – Brandon Roy. Making this the easiest pick of the year, the Portland Trail Blazers rookie out of Washington, led all rookies in minutes (35.3), points per game (16.7), and assists per game (4.0). No first year baller has had a more significant role or impact on his team this season. Coming out of college, everyone agreed that Roy was the most complete and NBA-ready player in the draft, and he did nothing to disprove those notions.
Next on the ballot: Andrea Bargnani, Rudy Gay
Coach of the Year – Sam Mitchell. At the beginning of the season, who would’ve believed you if you said the Toronto Raptors would not only be a playoff team but gain the 3-seed? I’ll tell you who: no one — at least no one outside of Toronto. One year ago, Toronto possessed the fifth-worst record in the league, winning only 27 games. The 2006-2007 season is still going on, yet the Raptors have already won 45 games. No team has been a bigger surprise or made such a drastic turnaround this season. You can thank Mitchell for that.
Next on the ballot: Jerry Sloan, Avery Johnson
All-NBA First Team All-NBA Second Team
G Steve Nash G Gilbert Arenas
G Kobe Bryant G Tracy McGrady
F Dirk Nowitzki F Kevin Garnett
F LeBron James F Chris Bosh
C Tim Duncan C Yao Ming